Gem has been on her own since she was a little girl. She and her little brother have been shuffled around the foster care system for as long as she can remember, and she’s tough as a result of it. When she and her brother Malik are put into a house with a family that seems to genuinely care, Gem rebels. Then she’s reunited with an old friend and starts up a relationship with a seriously cute guy, and things go from complicated to even worse. Can Gem stay true to herself, learn to trust other people, and balance her friendships with a relationship? Does she even want to?
There’s no denying that Ni-Ni Simone has tapped into a specific demand in the book market. Her books about teens living positive lives despite obstacles they face are popular, relevant, and fairly well done. Her latest offering, No Boyz Allowed, might not be as strong as some of her previous books, but it still offers a funny, fresh perspective that teens will gobble up.
Gem’s voice is particularly well developed. The novel is full of short chapters with lots of dialogue and snappy lines that will hook teens and reluctant readers especially. There’s certainly something to be said about whether or not Simone’s books will stand the test of time, solely based on the amount of slang she employs, but that hardly matters. She’s filling a niche market that could use more authors like her.
The plot isn’t particularly complicated and moves along at a whip-fast pace. Gem’s narration drives the story, and though characters from some of Simone’s other novels make appearances, it’s by no means a sequel. Think of the characters more like little hints at a larger universe, a la a Dessen novel.
By no means an unpleasant read, the ending feels too neat. There’s also the issue that Gem’s actual life experiences seem to be used solely as a way to make her guarded. Simone isn’t interested in actually going deep with her characters or exploring their pain–she just wants to tell a good story. Most readers who seek out Simone’s work aren’t going to mind this. Frothy and entertaining.
No Boyz Allowed by Ni-Ni Simone. K-Teen/Dafina: 2012. Library copy read for the 2012 Cybils Round 1 Panel.